To Tweet or Not To Tweet?
Making the Most out of Your “Brand” in a SocMed World
Are you a Tweep? Do you belong to the Diggnation or do you prefer to reside in Plurkistan? Do you know the difference between a Poke and a SuperPoke? Furthermore, do you care whether or not you are linked to a LION?
If any of the above statements make sense to you, congratulations, you’re already at least somewhat familiar with the world of social media (SocMed), an approach to Web-based communication that has seeped into just about every facet of the Internet. These days, you pretty much can’t go online without being presented with the opportunity to connect, comment, friend, link, or share the coolest, most awesome bits of yourself to the world in a manner that goes way beyond a standard Web forum or BBS.
But the advent of the SocMed movement has also given rise to a new age of social networking (SocNet) in which transparency is the norm. This new drive for “realism” online has also opened the doors for individuals to market themselves like never before. Thanks to blogs and the explosion in popularity of sites such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, just about anyone can make a name for themselves, including the creative set. The question is, “Is SocMed right for you?” And if so, how does one go about harnessing the power and influence that it can bring without falling into the nonproductive pit of “time suck”?
How indeed? I have to admit, when I was first approached to write this article, I thought it would be a piece of cake, but social media changes at the speed of now. Everything I’d planned to write about is now old news and the thought of giving a “Social Media 101” lesson left me curled up in the corner in a fetal position because social media, in all its forms, is probably the hottest topic on the Web these days. There are thousands, if not millions of blog posts and articles on that subject, each with its own merits and pitfalls, which brings me to my next hurdle…
When everyone’s an expert, no one is
Along with the popularity of SocMed comes a wave of “social media experts.” Everywhere you look, there’s a social media expert dying to share his or her “secrets” to growing a network on Twitter, making money off Facebook, or getting a job through LinkedIn—of course, you usually need to buy their ebook, DVD, or register for an e-seminar in order to “unlock” their secrets, but I’m here to tell you that there really is no mystery behind social media.
For the record, I am not a social media expert, nor would I ever claim to be. I’m just a person who latched onto the concept early. (Confession: It started with MySpace back in ’04 and grew from there.) I became fascinated with end-user, content-driven sites and how people were sharing the latest information. Suddenly, you didn’t need to work at the world’s top PR firm to disseminate information; you just needed to know where to find the cool stuff that no one else in your corner of the “webbyverse” could find, and then spread it out to an ever-growing network of people in an almost Ponzi-like fashion.
I joined LinkedIn and then Twitter roughly a year after each one launched. By being immersed in it at relatively early stages, my understanding of the concepts of social networking and communicating via these new channels grew as the sites grew.
Today, I probably have an account on just about every major social network there is under various pseudonyms—all just part of my personal fascination with SocMed as a tool for communication. Heck, I even have my own social network about social networks.
It wasn’t until I joined Kelby Media Group in July of 2008 that I got the chance to put my own ideas into action on how to harness SocMed for marketing, brand-building, and customer service, and so far, I’d have to say that the results have been pretty successful.
So what’s the purpose of this article? Originally, I wanted to give an overview of, and insight into, some of the more popular SocNets out there but as time went on, I decided to focus my efforts on Twitter. The goal is to give you my perception on what has worked and what hasn’t in the past to help you become “experts” in your own right and save you the trouble of making the mistakes that I and millions of others have already made.
Building your network
First thing’s first: If you’re considering using Twitter as a way to promote your skill sets or your business, before you even start, you need to ask yourself, “What are my objectives?” Start at the very beginning with your UserName. This is how people will come to know you from here on out. Are you going to use your real name or your business name? Maybe a pop culture reference or something that defines you? No matter your choice, give it some thought first. (Hindsight: “NAPP” [the National Association of Photoshop Professionals] was taken when I started the “NAPP_News” Twitter account. If I could go back, I’d scrap the underscore. It caused a little confusion at the beginning.)
Now, this is going to be old news for some of you but if you really want to tell the world more than what you ate for lunch, you need to make yourself “follow-worthy” before you try to engage in building your network. I get quite a few follow requests and I actually go through every single one and click on the requester’s Twitter page. I try to follow back every active and interested designer, photographer, or Photoshop user who follows me on Twitter to keep the communication channels wide open (only mutual follows can DM each other). (See “Twictionary” below for a definition of DM or any other Twitter term that you find unfamiliar in this article.)
So how can you tell if a new follower is active and interested (i.e., follow-worthy)? I can’t, but there are many clues to look for. If you want to make a good Twitter impression, here are some tips that I’ve gleaned from observations made over the last year from thousands of follow requests that I’ve received.
1. Put your house in order first
Just like networking in real life, you get only one chance to make a first impression. Furthermore, when it comes to social networking, the amount of time you have to make that first impression lasts about two to five seconds. Make sure the following points are done well before you start trying to expand your network.
• Create an avatar. Leaving the default Twitter avatar up tells the world that you either have no idea what you’re doing or you’re spam. While the former is definitely forgivable, the latter will hurt you. Note: British blogger, Malcom Coles, wrote an excellent post in April about things to consider when creating a Twitter avatar. Find it on www.malcolmcoles.co.uk.
• Create a background or at least change the default background. What goes for the avatar goes double for the background. Twitter backgrounds have become more popular lately, especially since the social media crowd realized that they were a great way to tell people even more about you. As a designer or a photographer, you know how important that is. Think of your Twitter background as your own personal billboard and wow your potential network with your skill sets!
• Fill in the About Me section and add a Web link. The more people know about you, the better.
• Upload your email address book. Start building your network by using the one you already have. Don’t forget to repeat this process every few months, as more people are discovering Twitter every day.
• Say something. Even if you have no followers, an empty timeline means you have nothing to say, and who wants to follow someone with nothing to say? This is a great time to get used to updating to Twitter and figuring out if this is something you’ll want to do on a regular basis. Plus, you can get all the “Trying Twitter out for the first time—not sure if I like it yet” tweets out of the way.
• Fill up your timeline. Take a few days to tweet some interesting posts, links, and observations that span over time. Don’t just fill it all up at once (the time stamp will give you away). Plus, you can bury those, “Trying Twitter out for the first time…” tweets. They’re like lunch tweets. Who cares?
2. Make your profile public
I like the fact that Twitter allows people to keep their profiles private; however, it’s a very rare occasion that I’ll send a follow request to someone with a private profile. This is simply because I figure that the person has made their profile private for a reason. If you intend to use Twitter as something other than keeping in touch with friends and family (or if you cater to a special niche market), I strongly suggest that you make your profile public.
And, if you do choose to keep it private, there will be no “Twhining” over the fact that you have no followers!
3. As you go, create balance
If you can, try to create a balanced-looking timeline. When I say “balanced,” I’m referring to your content. Look at your timeline objectively. Is it filled with nothing but TwitPic links with no captions, RTs, or “@” replies? If that’s the case, you may want to rethink your approach. A well-rounded, savvy Tweep has a balance of links, personal observations (if you’re representing yourself and not a group or business), “@” replies, original content, and RTs. You want new potential followers to be able to take a quick glance at your timeline and get a sense of who you are, what interests you, and how you use Twitter. The savvier you are about using the tool, the better impression you’ll make.
Build slowly or build smart
One of the biggest mistakes you can make when building your network is to follow hundreds or thousands of people at once. It makes you look like a spammer when the ratio of people you’re following is much higher than the people who are following you, and you may even get flagged as a potential spammer. It screams, “I don’t know what I’m doing,” which destroys your credibility as someone follow-worthy. Here are some tips that I used to grow my network:
• Try to keep your following-to-follower ratio close to 2:1 when you start.
• Search for peers or folks with like-minded interests using sites such as www.Twellow.com or http://WeFollow.com.
• Follow only 10–20 people at a time.
• Give people time to follow you back. People have lives just like you. Don’t take the lack of an instant response as a slight.
• Don’t feel as if you have to follow everyone back either. I use the criteria I listed under “Put your house in order first” on page 39 to decide whether or not to follow people back. You may have your own.
• Don’t be afraid to “@” reply. Set up a search (if you use TweetDeck [www.tweetdeck.com], a browser for organizing tweets) for keywords that interest you. If someone asks a question or tweets something that interests you, answer them. Chances are, they’ll follow you because you actually took the time to get involved.
• Use Web tools such as Less Friends (http://lessfriends.com) to even up your following-to-follower ratio. Follow notices come via email. They can get lost. It’s good to check periodically to see if there are people you want to follow back, or to cut some of the people you follow loosely.
• Add your profile to sites such as Twellow and WeFollow.
• If you have the means, and a following of 400–500 people, hold a contest or giveaway. It’s a great way to boost your following, but it’s still up to you to keep them.
• Be patient. Building and sustaining a solid network takes time—unless you’re like Drobo. By giving away a DroboPro, they gained more than 4,000 interested followers in one day. Yup. They did in one day what took me 10 months to do.
• Make your Twitter presence known. Add a link to your Twitter page or a Twidget to your blog, website, email signature, other social sites such as Facebook, and yes, your business card.
• Don’t obsess. It really doesn’t matter if you have 10 or 10,000 followers. What matters is that you add value to whatever field you’re in. Believe me, if people like what you’re putting out there, they’ll find you.
Avoiding the time suck
There’s no easy way to say this but if you get involved in SocMed, you’ll face falling into the dreaded time-suck trap. Building a network takes time and you’ll learn rather quickly whether or not it’s something that you want to do. Twitter is just like licorice: you either really, really like it or you don’t. That’s all there is to it. Building a SocMed presence is essentially free but time is money, and the time you spend building your network does eat into time that could be spent doing your work. Want to avoid the time suck? Here are a couple of suggestions:
• Once you’ve decided if SocMed is right for you, visit www.TweetStats.com and enter your UserName. TweetStats will search through your tweets and graph them for you so you know what time of the day and what days of the week you tweet the most. Use this to plan your “Twitter Breaks.”
• If you freelance or work from home, get an egg timer—seriously! Take ten-minute breaks in your day to check your SocMed sites, answer “@” replies, update your Facebook, etc. When that bell rings, get back to work.
• Use sites such as http://Ping.FM, www.FriendFeed.com, or www.HootSuite.com, to send your updates if you use more than one SocMed site.
• TweetDeck, TweetDeck, TweetDeck. I don’t know how I ever tweeted without it!
My best advice
One of the things I love (and sometimes loathe) about Twitter is how it’s changing the way we communicate. On the plus side, it’s turning thousands of people into savvy communicators. My motto: If it can’t be said in 140 characters, it can’t be said. Furthermore, I can’t tell you how many news stories I heard on Twitter first before they ever made their way near traditional media outlets. On the down side, it can look to a newcomer as if a bunch of people are talking but nobody is listening. It can feel like that sometimes, too.
But the bottom line is this: Twitter is just a tool for communicating. It’s only what you make of it, and the opportunity does exist for you to make something of it. My best advice is to just jump in and swim. Twitter offers an excellent opportunity to create one-to-one connections if you’re willing to make the commitment. And only you will be able to determine if the effort is worth your time.
Want to get more insights on using Twitter? Click here for a roundtable discussion between NAPP_News and a few of her fellow Tweeps. We’ve also included a list of helpful links to some of the best TwitterTools on the Web, plus a list of common TwitterTypes.
What follows are a few definitions for some common terms used in the Twitterverse.
“@” reply: Placing the “@” symbol in front of any Twitter UserName puts it in the user’s “reply” column and makes it easy for them to find it. (Note: Twitter recently changed the name of the Reply tab to @[your UserName], so now it shows all tweets where your UserName appears. It no longer has to be at the beginning of a tweet for it to work.)
DM: Direct Message. Anyone you follow can DM you without you following him or her back; however, you can’t DM someone who isn’t following you—get it?
FailWhale: A term for when Twitter goes down due to a high volume of traffic. Coined for the picture of a cartoon whale that appears when this happens.
#FollowFriday: A TweetMeme that happens every Friday. Users tweet the names of other users they think everyone should follow too. Works great when they actually tell you why they think you should follow them.
FTW: For the win!
Hashtag: A keyword with an # in front of it (e.g., #PSW = Photoshop World). Hashtags add context to tweets and make entire conversations searchable.
IMHO: In my humble opinion
IRL: In real life
JK: Just kidding
Lunch: Something you should never ever tweet about unless you’re having it with someone famous—like Ghandi.
NSFW: Not safe for work
RT: Stands for ReTweet—a method of spreading someone else’s tweets and citing the source. Note: Some people like to use “(via @UserName)” instead of RT. I like RT because it uses fewer characters.
SocMed: Social media
SocNet: Social networks
Timeline: The window in which all the tweets from the people in your network appear. Your personal timeline can be viewed by clicking on your profile page.
TW+ just about anything: An action taking place within the Twitterverse. (e.g., Twhining = whining on Twitter).
Tweeps: Twitter users (a.k.a. Tweeple). See definition for “TW+ just about anything.”
TweetMeme: Any viral social action that happens on Twitter (e.g., #FollowFriday).
TweetUp: A meet-up organized via Twitter
Twitterverse: Everything that has to do with Twitter
Twoosh: A tweet that’s exactly 140 characters long. Made popular in the earlier days of Twitter by @Tweet140.
YW: You’re welcome
Twitter has become a media darling, thanks in part to our President and his brilliant leveraging of Twitter during his campaign, and it’s now becoming an integrated arm of our standard media outlets. Don’t believe me? Turn on CNN—or better yet, just follow @CNNbrk.
Launched in 2006, Twitter got a nice boost in 2007 thanks to Leo Laporte and the interactive portion of the South by Southwest festival (anyone remember “SarahGate”?). Events such as the 2008 Macworld keynote have actually been blamed for causing the site to go down due to the volume of traffic. By the end of 2008, Twitter had between four and five million users and that number is still growing. February ’09 heralded a 1,382% year-over-year growth, and in March 2009 alone, Twitter grew its user base by 78%. [Sources: HubSpot and Nielsen Online]
Who has the most followers?
In March, Ashton Kutcher challenged CNN to see who could reach a million followers first. Apparently, Ashton won. WTH? Anyone feel like starting an #UNfollowFriday? JK
Want to read more about anything and everything Social Media? Go to www.Mashable.com.
You know you’re addicted to twitter when…
• You put an “@” symbol in front of everyone’s name in everything from blog comments to emails.
• You haven’t updated your blog in ages.
• You have updated your blog—with posts about Twitter.
• You quell the urge to panic when you see the FailWhale.
• You can’t say it in 140 characters, so it ain’t worth saying!
• Every event that takes place in your life is quickly followed by the thought, “Was that Tweetworthy?”
• Nonsensical word MashUps with capitalizations, but no spaces, makes perfect sense to you.
• U cnstntly try 2 make sentnces shrtr & shrtr so u can say mor w/less rm.
• You absentmindedly add #Hashtags to any given sentence to help give it #context.
• Think AutoDMs are the devil.
Twitter Article Extras:
Twitter Roundtable Discussion, Part 1
Twitter Roundtable Discussion, Part 2
A List of Helpful Sites